The Wild were eliminated from the playoffs this year by a physical Ducks team that steamrolled not only Minnesota, but everyone in the NHL on their way to the Stanley Cup. Clearly that experience weighed on the minds of the Wild front office as all their selections were players known for their physical presence. In fact, in the first round, they passed over some smaller skilled players to get the grinding forward they were looking at. The Wild also drafted heavily from the Canadian ranks taking 4 of their 5 picks from the Western Hockey League of our neighbors to the north.
These guys won’t be suiting up for the Wild next season (none of the 2006 draft class have even been signed yet), they’ll probably remain in their respective leagues for at least another year as the Wild have two years to ink them to a deal. Hopefully, someday in the not too distant future we’ll see these guys suiting up for the Wild.
Here’s a look at who the Wild drafted this weekend:
1st Round (16th overall pick) – Colton Gillies, 18 years old, 6’3, 189 lbs., Center, Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
The Minnesota Wild traded their first (#19) and second (#42) round picks to the Anaheim Ducks in order to move up three spots in the first round and draft 18 year old Colton Gillies of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
“I didn’t see it coming.” said Gillies, who was thrilled with his future destination. “I had 26 meetings with teams but today’s meeting went well and here I am. I’ve been told that it is an unbelievable hockey city. I’m really excited to be a Wild.”
With a couple of other big names still sitting in the audience in Columbus (Cherepanov and Esposito for example), I have to wonder if the Wild could have stayed put and allowed Gillies to fall to them in the 19 slot. But at least one mock draft (ESPN) had him going to Calgary at #18, and indeed it seemed that the Flames had some interest. So the Wild just wanted to make sure they got their man.
“He’s definitely one of the best skaters in the Draft. He plays with a physical edge and he plays hard. The way the game is going, you have to have some size up front that can play. We feel that is a need in the organization and we feel he fits that need better than anyone in the Draft. You can’t just have big guys that can’t get there. They have to be able to skate and they have to play with an edge to them.”
-Tom Thompson, Minnesota Wild Assistant GM
In his last season with Saskatoon, Gillies netted 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists) while being assessed 148 penalty minutes in 65 games. Saskatoon was a very young team who struggled at times during the season and missed the WHL playoffs, so the supporting cast probably didn’t help Gillies out too much. He also played through a couple of nagging shoulder and ankle injuries which may have decreased those point totals as well.
Colton is the nephew of former Islanders winger Clark Gillies (who was the bruiser on a line with Trottier and Bossy) although he’s never met the guy. He grew up in British Columbia cheering for the Canucks (we’ll have to work on that). He was highly regarded coming into the WHL (drafted 2nd overall in WHL entry draft) but that enthusiasm has tempered somewhat due to back to back low offensive output seasons. Still he was rated the 12th overall prospect by the International Scouting Service.
There may be more difference of opinion on Gillies than on any other player expected to go in the first or second round.
The general consensus is that Gillies is a very good skater, who will lay some hits, work hard, play well in the defensive zone and get physical. People are much more divided on his hockey sense and scoring touch. His skating speed came up again and again as being very special for a player of his size. The difference betwixt the opinion of him in the defensive zone (where he’s very good), and the offensive zone (where reviews are mixed at best) is very sharply divided. Some have begun to propose a switch to defense for the young center to maximize the impact of his skills and given the Wild’s success with a similar move for Brent Burns, I can’t say I would be shocked to see the switch.
Central Scouting Service had this to say about Gillies:
A power forward with great size… out muscles his opponents and has the ability to land punishing hits… has great speed and is very consistent… uses his reach to his advantage and is good on the penalty kill… needs to get better around the net and at times to improve his positioning.
Finally, one last scouting report from NHL Draft Buzz:
Saskatoon’s young Colt is an impressive, towering centerman with elite skating ability… the ease with which he skates is a pure joy to watch … smooth accelerator with powerful crossovers … can blow by guys with straight line speed and can rotate from forwards to backwards at the drop of a hat … plays in all situations: 5 on 5, PK, and PP … already wears an A … is able to make plays on the penalty kill with agility, reach, and hustle … is a burgeoning threat on the rush … looks like a human freight train when dumping/banking the puck and chasing … owns a quick release that is not the most accurate or well placed … has good offensive sense and anticipation when the puck is on his stick … has fairly soft hands, receives passes well, and can stickhandle … adept at processing defender’s gap control and knows when to get rid of the puck … as a result makes some pretty passes from time to time … loves contact and finishes every check hard … is great along the boards with good puck protection and has the acceleration to roll out quickly for an offensive breakout/chance…could stand to think the game a hair quicker as he tends to chase the play a little too often … did not look comfortable or meshed with his linemates, which may have skewed his stats some … needs to be more consistent in driving to the net …can play defense as well, which shows attractive versatility … Gillies is a tantalizing blend of many talents who needs to show a little more confidence and ability to control the game.
2nd Round (no picks)
3rd Round (no picks)
4th Round (110th overall pick) – Justin Falk, 18 years old, 6’5, 211 lbs., Defense, Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
A big defenseman out of Snowflake, Manitoba, Justin led Spokane in plus/minus last year while scoring 3 goals and 12 assists and amassing 88 penalty minutes in 62 games. Offense is not his strong point obviously, but he has earned praise for his physical defensive play.
5th Round (140th overall pick) – Cody Almond, 17 years old (18 in July), 6’2, 194 lbs., Center, Kelowna Rockets (WHL)
Either everybody in this draft was 6’2 or that was the Wild’s main criteria as this is the first of three picks who are listed at that height. Another big guy, the center out of Calgary showed some offensive ability leading his team in scoring with 15 goals and 28 assists in 68 games last season for a team that struggled offensively (2.17 goals/game).
6th Round (170th overall pick) – Harri Ilvonen, 18 years old, Defense, 6’2, 187 lbs., Tappara (Finland)
Ilvonen was the only Wild draft pick from the second day present in Columbus, as he expected to be taken in the third or fourth round. Instead he had a long day of waiting before the Wild snagged him in the sixth round. Harri was ranked as the #7 European defenseman (21st European skater overall) in the draft by Central Scouting Services.
Ilvonen is known as a smart player who is a good passer and skater. Another big guy who isn’t afraid to throw his weight around. Apparently he doesn’t have the quickest feet but he scored 9 goals and added 21 assists in 39 games last season while picking up 38 penalty minutes.
7th Round (200th overall pick) – Carson McMillan, 18 years old, 6’2, 200 lbs., Forward, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)
One last big guy, Carson, out of Manitoba, has played two seasons in the WHL with the Hitmen, last season he accumulated 7 goals, 15 assists and 78 penalty minutes in 72 games. Carson isn’t afraid to mix it up a bit, as he’s already the proud owner of a fight card at hockeyfights.com. That’s hard to believe because he looks like such a nice guy.
There you have it, the 2007 Entry Draft for the Minnesota Wild. The slogan this year must have been “Go big, or go home” because they certainly loaded up on physical players. I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys as they develop and in a couple of years I hope to welcome them to the NHL.